THEOREM[A]: Michele Lamy
With diamond-decked teeth, fingers stained black, Paris-based Michèle Lamy is truly one of fashion’s most revered eccentrics. Entrepreneur, collaborator, producer, wife and business partner to Rick Owens, she has given life to one of the industry’s most celebrated labels alongside countless collaborations and a Gareth Pugh partnership – all while prevailing as a gothic fashion …
With diamond-decked teeth, fingers stained black, Paris-based Michèle Lamy is truly one of fashion’s most revered eccentrics. Entrepreneur, collaborator, producer, wife and business partner to Rick Owens, she has given life to one of the industry’s most celebrated labels alongside countless collaborations and a Gareth Pugh partnership – all while prevailing as a gothic fashion legend in her own right.
In 2018, Lamy was the first creative to be invited by Selfridges to take residency in their Corner Shop (Lamyland X Selfridges), coinciding with the riveting Rick Owens retrospective at the Triennale di Milano. With the brand name buzzing worldwide, Filep Motwary spoke with the style queen as part of THEOREMA, The Body, Emotion + Politics in Fashion to probe different facets of the dressed body, investigating the evolution of gendered clothing and the political fervour encased in both body and garb.
You earlier told me that “fashion is a great reflection of its time — is and has been for a while — a precursor/forerunner of our emotional state. And the runways are here to prove it.” You mention the lack of top models, the merge of boys and girls models within shows as well as the experimentation or the acceptance of a third gender that is now forming the Zeitgeist. How did we come to this level, not only in fashion but also in general?
The world went through many evolutions in the past, I think that right now we notice these changes even more because of Trump. His actions enabled women, minorities to react, to show their strength, the gay people to react because his politics are a threat to our rights as humans.
Of course these issues are not new, but having someone like Trump as the president of the country of all countries raised even more reactions from people who want to secure things the previous generations fought so hard for! You see this reaction on the streets, in fashion, the social media and everywhere; there is an evolution in society that is important and normally fashion is the first to show it. Information is shared so rapidly now through applications like Instagram and everything is open to many more people than ever before. What is happening now with the supremacists is no accident, as it appeared to be at first. It’s perhaps like boxing, metaphorically speaking. If everybody wants to fight there will always be fights. In boxing, when you want to fight it is at least one on one and there are a lot of rules that will decree you a winner or a loser.
I just finished a project, a performance/installation based on boxing that was presented at Selfridges under the name What are we fighting for? Boxing can serve as a metaphor for so many things like art or music for example, because it connects you with others, you can look each other in the eye and be connected on the same level, and say “we must stay strong and stand for what we believe in.” Even though I have been boxing for forty years without absolutely no chance to fight or even to think about it, I understand it’s like playing chess. You look at your opponent in the eye and predict his/her move.
The question I am trying to raise and get the answer — “What are we fighting for?” — is also a statement. At this time it is a phenomenon to watch the champions and what they wear to fight in the ring. This is a question that I am asking myself too, specifically in my curatorial role for my Lamyland X Selfridges project, that was indeed about the body, it was political and about emotion too! It was on from January/February and into March 2018.
How is the meaning of the “body” approached in contemporary fashion, considering its permanent outline and the fact that it is something generic? Are designers today connected to the body they design for?
I will start with Rick. When you wear his clothes you already start walking in a different way, there are so many aspects of his work that emphasise on certain attributes of the body, the tight arms, etc. He focuses on the body but he does not follow a classic way to communicate with it.
The body is his starting point, he starts from there but what he is truly interested in is the way it moves. At the same time, I think that all designers follow the body, each in his/her own way. Look at Rei [Kawakubo]! Even if her work is more sculptures rather than clothes, she presents the body in her own personal way. The body allows us to approach its proportions, work on them and reshape it, shorten or elongate it. In a way the dressed body becomes the personal message you want to communicate to the outside. If you want to show the body as much as you can, do it through clothes.
What does clothing serve today? How connected is society to the clothes we choose to wear? Does it matter to be conscious with what we wear?
I’m going to give you an example, Edith Blayney, whom I would meet at the gym and we later became friends. It was during the first year we moved to Paris with Rick. She came to the show and at the time she would always dress in men’s collections, as it was her style, Dior Homme and all the rest. One day she changed everything and became a fan of Rick Owens and she wears him in her very own way.
Things happen sometimes to some of us, we finally come across what is destined to come our way and without a question we welcome it in our lives. Her body did not change, she has an incredible allure but through Rick she found a way to connect with her emotions and be even closer to her inner self.
What about the way you dress, the way you paint your fingers, your golden teeth caps… what does each of these incredible attributes say about you and did you decide to enrich or underline your look?
Hmm, this is the real story. I got absolutely seduced by the Berbers, who are an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa, during my first trip there. I was so mesmerised by the tattoos they had on their faces, being very young at the time, 17 or 18 I was. Also, I have this constitutional look, being very tanned so it kind of looks natural on me. When I was a little girl, with my sister and my dad at the Riviera, people would speak to us in English as they thought we were Indians because of our dark skin and our very long hair while our father looked almost like a Gandhi type, with no hair.
The way I looked even as a child created some sort of personal evolution and I would experiment early as well, like with henna to change the colour of my hair, or to tattoo my fingers so that I could look at them. Then I moved to the dye because I wanted my nails to be black but not in a cheap shiny way.
The teeth happened in L.A., where I found this artist that was a newage type who convinced me to put gold on them. My God, I spent all this money, you cannot even see anything [laughs]. So I thought “Why didn’t I just do one in the front and then the rest?” This is my personal evolution though. You know, I could not have long nails for example, because I would not be able to take off my contact lenses all the time. Rick says: “Fashion is a quiet opportunity to participate and communicate. First impressions can be significant, and I like the idea of putting your best foot forward. The effort to charm is generous and never hurts.” And I say: “What are we fighting for?”
If boxing could be perceived as barbaric (as my black fingers and tattoos on the face), it is in fact, a metaphor for looking at the bigger picture of where we are at in the world and how we can stand up and face what we need to change. Through the use of fashion and art around this subject, I aim to open up a broader dialogue of how we can use our bodies to connect with our emotions and influence our politics for the better.
On the occasion of the Rick Owens exhibition, how would you say exhibiting fashion serves in understanding the body? What about our society?
It is interesting to see fashion presented outside the fashion show context and to be exhibited in a museum as something more static. But to me fashion shows are very important for the designer, for his followers, for the emotions reflected within. This exhibition of Rick is very much about the designer, it’s very much about his talent and his craft. He has shown at the Milan Triennale from 15 December 2017 to 25 March 2018 — a true insight into where he is at in the world of fashion.
The exhibition was more about fashion as a mirror of our times, his style, the clothing he makes. I am not sure how people who are not in fashion saw it but I hope they were surprised. The body serves fashion shows, the streets, and daily life.
What is so important about being new? Does creation have to be new?
Creation is about new, otherwise it’s something else.
How can we manoeuvre emotion through fashion?
Rick is a great example of incorporating emotion in his work, in a fashion show. The thing that changed in fashion is that individual models are disappearing into being one thing. Even if you separate and look at them individually, the meaning today is more about groups or tribes, even small ones, instead of individualism. Presenting as it used to be has changed a lot. Models are no longer carrying the clothes, smiling and dancing.
At Rick’s shows you want to cry, most of the times you do not know the reasons but the emotions are so strong that they hit on a very unpredictable moment and you let your feelings out free. It’s not a cry for the beauty you see but more about the emotion you get.
To quote Rick again: “I always like it when the barbaric turns elegant and controlled.” And Joyce Carol Oates wrote of the Noble Art, in her On Boxing: “[Boxing is primitive] as birth, death, and erotic love might be said to be primitive, and forces on reluctant acknowledgment that the most profound experiences of our lives are physical events — though we believe ourselves to be, and surely are, essentially spiritual beings.”
And at which point fashion makes us feel vulnerable?
This is a very personal state for each of us and very independent. If you are not true to yourself, this is when vulnerability comes to play.
Why is it important to have the feeling of belonging?
When we are walking as a tribe, we advance, we push further the limits and barriers of any kind, we evolve, we change into a better version of ourselves, together and much stronger. The whole world is a tribe, as I see it. In every tribe you have different people but then, they all have things that are common. This is not fashion I am referring to though. It’s the emotions and the politics that can form a tribe and clothes are the tools we use to show where we belong.
How can personal become global? You mentioned that using art and fashion we can open broader dialogues for the use of our bodies to connect with our emotions and influence our politics.
To be in your body you need to be conscious. There’s got to be a connection between the two. If you have that then you have a way of processing your emotions in a healthier and constructive way. Achieving that ability would automatically inform your politics, individually. If everybody seeks for that connection with our inner self-politics, things will be more moral, more constructive.
How does fashion serve liberty and vice versa?
In a lot of Arabic countries, fashion is antifashion as women are forced to wear certain things in certain ways. In the Emirates, people are so proud to wear their traditional costume. When you are there you see them hiding behind these clothes but not necessarily for the reasons we think. This sort of traditional fashion these people follow reflects the politics directly in our face!
I thought it was so stupid of France for example when they put this law about the Islamic veil while at the same time you have the Catholic nuns walking around with those enormous headpieces. It didn’t make much sense to me.
So, it’s a fact that politics are getting through us by using fashion now, as it was always done of course, yet now it’s more official.
At this point I think Kim Kardashian is another great example of the contemporary culture. The other day in London, a friend of mine who is a soccer player took me out to a club. I was shocked to see that every single girl in the club was a Kim Kardashian lookalike and it was very difficult for me to decide if their bottoms were results of plastic surgery or if they wore some kind of padding to achieve that look. It was amazing. Imagine thirty-five Kims in the same place. Overall it’s an extraordinary phenomenon and very interesting. Kim Kardashian is very pragmatic, as I know a bit of her in person, and she is someone that changed our culture in the recent years.
Some artists did it in the past, like Orlan for example, but that was on a different scale compared to the impact Kim has on the contemporary society.
How are myths in fashion getting developed around certain subjects or people? How does fantasy serve reality? Should it, in contemporary culture? Is there room for nuance, fantasy and extravagance?
It could be irrelevant now and perhaps tomorrow someone does an extravagant show as such and is automatically considered as the best! This is something that can change at any given moment. We still have some of this extravagance today, for example Karl Lagerfeld’s version of Chanel but I am not sure it’s the same — it is still extravagance, only in a different way.
When John Travolta was doing his dance routines back in the day, his vest became so popular on a global level.
There will always be things that touch you more than others and there will always be myths; it’s their meaning that changes depending on the context we experience them through.
Kim Kardashian’s reality is others people’s fantasy and especially now with the social media; we build our own myths that can fit into the square photo Instagram allows you to upload.
You have worked within a ready-to-wear designer approach, as much as with designing furniture alongside Rick Owens. How do these different approaches go together? How do you see the body in relation to the furniture?
We started this project from home and our personal needs to dress the environment we lived in, to be able to behave as ourselves. Even if this is a collection that is sold in galleries, it comes from our home and the way me and Rick like to sit, to work, to read or relax but everything in relation to our bodies. It’s also very personal.
Portrait photo by Danielle Levitt.